- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus The government of Cyprus, an island often accused of tolerating money laundering, yesterday pledged full cooperation with any investigation of banking activities here by the Osama bin Laden terrorist organization.

"We are willing to go deep into anything that is brought to our attention," government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou told reporters.

He acknowledged that one of bin Laden's brothers owns three offshore companies based on Cyprus.

"I do confirm that one member of the bin Laden family owns three offshore companies in Cyprus. But there is no record that he has ever visited Cyprus."

There are an estimated 32,000 foreign-owned offshore companies here; that is, firms based in Cyprus, but doing business outside the island, mainly in the Middle East.

Mr. Papapetrou said that the billionaire bin Laden family consists of some 50 brothers and sisters, and specializes in the construction business, which has included U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden was disavowed by his family when he left Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, pledging to wage a religious terror war against the West and particularly the United States.

He is the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The Cypriot government spokesman's clarification was in response to a statement by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, who described Cyprus as "the worst of all money-laundering havens" and claimed the island republic had resisted U.S. calls for sensitive information on banking activities by terrorists.

Mr. Woolsey, who headed the CIA between 1993 and 1995, apparently referred to reports of stock market profiteering through short-selling by the bin Laden organization that preceded the devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Cypriot officials said that Mr. Woolsey later claimed he had been misquoted in the interview with the Rome daily La Repubblica.

State Department officials said that since Mr. Woolsey is retired, his personal opinions do not represent U.S. policies.

In his interview, Mr. Woolsey also claimed that because of its suspect banking practices, Cyprus has jeopardized its bid to join the European Union.

Before yesterday's statement by Mr. Papapetrou, the government of Cyprus denied allegations in Athens and Brussels that two Cypriot banks may have sold shares on behalf of the bin Laden financial empire.

Commenting on the ongoing controversy, Leopold Maurer, who handles the Cypriot application for European Union (EU) membership, said it was important that "Cypriot authorities undertake all in their power to avoid all money-laundering activities and the enforcement record shows they are doling well."

In his briefing, Mr. Papapetrou reiterated his country's support for the "forces fighting terrorism" and said that during the past six or seven years measures against money laundering have been taken, prompting praise from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global financial organizations.

He pledged additional efforts against suspect banking practices "provided we get the necessary information."

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